Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Continent elects its first president

Africa elected its first president last night. Alpha Oumar Konaré, of Mali, will serve for four years as president of the 52-nation African Union (AU).

But, cocooned by 44 other African heads of state meeting in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean President, once again escaped censure for his government's human rights record. Zimbabwe is not on the summit's agenda.

Apart from electing Mr Konaré, who is highly respected in Washington and Paris, the AU still showed signs of its predecessor, the cosy dictators' club which for 39 years was known as the Organisation for African Unity.

The leaders of the continent also faced a stern ticking off from Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general.

He called for "African responsibility" and said "democracy means more than holding elections". He said that even though the EU and the US should dismantle trade barriers, it was up to African countries to create a healthy climate for "intra-regional trade".

With the near-unanimous election of Mr Konaré, the AU put paid to the ambitions of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Last year, at the first AU summit in Durban, South Africa, he proposed himself as president of a continent devoid of national borders and defended by a single army.

Conflict resolution, especially the fighting in Liberia, is central to discussions here. But most of the delegations hope President George Bush will offer US help when he arrives in Nigeria today.

Horst Köhler, managing director of the IMF, addressed the summit yesterday. Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, will offer a fund-raising package for an African peace-keeping force when he speaks tomorrow.